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Lesley's learning journey, 14th January 2013

Hacking through the undergrowth of the MOOC

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Lesley Shield
14 January 2013

The more I look at this MOOC, the more I think it really is a multi-user, hybrid PLE/VLE, particularly when the organisers use terms like, 'semi-structured'  and 'project-based' in relation to the activities within the environment. And the more I think that, the more I realise that I've been running something similar to this for years, but on a much, much smaller basis.  Who knew?!

In what form, you may ask? Well, virtual conference strands using a mixture of synchronous and asynchronous tools (discussion lists, audiographics, text chat, wiki, blog, live blog, social networking etc.), and, more recently, I've been desiging learnng activities using a range of tools (streamed and recorded events with remote audience participation, audiographics, discussion list, wiki and collaborative blog) to ensure inclusivity. While many rush towards the synchronous solution, this can be difficult for geographically widespread participants living in different timezones and/or for those who don't have the technology to participate in audio or video-conferencing; the mixture increases access, though I'm still working on improving accessibility.

Why am I pondering on this? Well, because we've been reminded of the importance of posting to the 'right' place, and, as Yishay said, if that doesn't happen, the whole thing can turn into, 'a huge pile of spaghetti'.

This got me thinking: how do we avoid the spaghetti? Is it possible to predict where participants may become confused? If my experience is anything to go by, once you've done something like this a few times, it really is possible to make such predictions and to head 'em off at the pass (even though some people always do something totally unexpected, but you can't cater for the unexpected!) Certainly, I'm very used to people asking, 'But what's the point of using ?' and the next time I run my 'hybrid' or 'inclusive' acivity, I'm going to provide:

  • a (clickable) map of the environment (something to download, something for the website)
  • an 'instruction manual' (rather than including separate instructions for each tool and an outline of the (very loosely structured) activity)
I think I'd have found both of these items useful for OLDS-MOOC as that would have given me an anchor point (well, a couple of anchor points, but who's counting?) and some navigation aids.
However, I think there's something more profound than simply not using the tools as necessarily intended and I'd be interested to follow this one up further; we all have our own preferred tools, particularly for communication. For example, I happen to like synchronous text (MOO in fact because you can do more than just 'chat'). If I could have a chat facility within Cloudworks, that's all I'd need - the social networking aspect would serve the asynchronous and the text chat the synchronous. A presence indicator would also be useful.. Others might prefer a different constellation of tools. I do wonder how much we can specify what people do and where they do it when using a MOOC?  Once you start making those specifications, doesn't it begin to turn into a VLE that doesn't depend on a bespoke system?
Off to ponder the pedagogy of hybrid environments further.

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